Dave Valentino’s “Physical Geology” course is intended to provide a foundation for future geologists. This semester’s course has probed the past around campus while making the present more meaningful for students.

For many in the course, it’s the only face-to-face class they have, so Valentino has worked hard to ensure they get the most out of it.

“Many of them told me that they look forward to being in the field and lab class every week,” Valentino said. “And they really have enjoyed it. They talk about how they are enjoying what they're doing and the things that they're learning.”

For the class of mostly freshmen, Valentino chose to focus on field studies, which he was able to do for 12 weeks, “largely to try to find some creative way to interact with the students that would follow all the guidelines in terms of distance and things like that,” he noted. Working outside provides a natural setting to explore and the best way for the masked students also to maintain distance.

“By giving them different field experiences they come away at the end of the semester with skills they can then apply to the upper-level classes,” Valentino explained. “We've started off with very basic field skills and I work them up to doing more complicated things and then utilizing some of the technology that we have to operate in the field.”

Valentino collected field exercises he has used over the years using non-invasive tools that use, for example, electromagnetic waves to examine the ground. Then students can use mathematics and other techniques to interpret the data.

“I've never heard a group of students talk so positively about a class,” Valentino said. “They're outside and they enjoy what they're doing.” 

‘A real professional’

Freshman geology major Aziz Sarimsakov said he feels “fortunate and grateful” to be taking Valentino’s class, which is his only face-to-face course in fall 2020.

Valentino is “a real professional in the field of geosciences,” Sarimsakov said, who "has taught us how to interpret topographic maps, how to draw one, how to examine soil and figure out what sediments/particles it consists of, and many more other essential-for-my-future-career thing.” 

That Valentino is passionate about seeing his students succeed has been especially helpful. “I am infinitely grateful to Dr. Valentino for being an understanding and wonderful instructor,” Sarimsakov said.

“Besides that, I have learned how to collaborate with others,” Sarimsakov added. “I am a very introverted and independent person, but this course has helped me socialize with people from different backgrounds and also work with them on various projects.”

“I did really enjoy this class,” said Michael Cinelli, a sophomore geology major on the earth sciences track. “It helped me to grow and learn what a geologist would do. What I really liked is for most of the weeks we would all be outside, we all followed the COVID guidelines while we were learning, using our geological compass and surveying the lake shore here at Oswego and getting to learn about all of the different features the rocks have.”

Cinelli, who didn't expect so much hands-on experience with geological devices for an introductory course, greatly appreciated it. “For example, we used an electromagnetic device to do a subsurface analysis, and we even got to use the machine to see how a real geologist would carry out the task,” Cinelli said. “We also learned how to identify rocks and rock features at the lake shore by using our geological compass.”

Daria Mahan, a junior transfer student in the class, was happy to learn about not only identifying rocks but also “soil types, and how water affects rocks and shore lines, and even some fun facts about birds and various random subjects along the way from Dave's seemingly endless fountain of knowledge.” 

“I've certainly enjoyed the class. It's the best class I've taken in my entire college time so far,” Mahan added. “Dave is funny, and also a super great teacher. I really loved that it was a very hands-on experience and that Dave made sure we could all safely come to and participate in class. Also how independent the class is. We learn a concept and then apply it all on our own. There's not a lot of hand-holding but I still had plenty of support from Dave and my classmates.” 

“I really did enjoy this class,” said Melissa Montera, a sophomore majoring in adolescence education - earth science. “Especially that it was outside. It made it more hands-on and more fun to do in this class.”

Exploring Splinter Village

“I like to give the students open-ended projects that are inquiry-based,” Valentino noted. “So it's about them learning a skill and then learning the process and that's kind of the spirit of a lot of the field studies that I do with my students.”

In addition to natural features, the class has checked out things specific to campus history, such as underground structures around what is now the Lee Hall field related to “Splinter Village,” a key development that bridged into the college’s boom in enrollment in the middle of the 20th century.

Founded in 1861 as the Oswego Primary Teachers’ Training School, Oswego became a founding member of the State University of New York system in 1948. That development, coupled with the GI Bill that provided veterans opportunities to attend college, increases in population and economic conditions that opened college up to more people led to a sharp rise in applications -- and a need for more spaces to accommodate the influx of students.

With a massive statewide bond that funded many of the structures that today make up the campus yet to come, in 1946 then-President Ralph Swetman arranged for surplus military barracks, each converted to hold as many as four apartments, to house World War II veterans teaching or studying at Oswego. In all, 25 structures came to the campus from Camp Shanks, a base near Poughkeepsie. Simple and fairly rough in nature, the buildings soon became known as Splinter Village.

“I always found it was a little intriguing because it's unlike really anywhere else that I've done these surveys on campus,” Valentino said. “And so a number of years ago, I found some photos of this Splinter Village. There probably were foundations, there were probably at least concrete slabs poured.” The buildings were removed when permanent buildings replaced their functions.

While not as comfortable as the many residence halls to open on campus between the 1950s and 1970, Splinter Village -- which also had its own firetruck and snowplow -- developed an esprit de corps and sense of community its residents recalled fondly. In a world learning to navigate the uncharted waters of a global pandemic, a similar feeling has taken hold in places like Valentino’s class.

“They have actually started to become close as a group,” Valentino said. “They're identifying themselves as geoscience students because they've had these field experiences together, and they don't really have a whole lot of contact with other people. They're having a good time with each other.”